Friday, April 22, 2011
Remembering Stanton Peabody: A Tribute
Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei
When I first met Mr. Stanton Peabody, by his age then, he should have been a retired person, but on the contrary, he was a classroom teacher and an active journalist for the Daily Observer Newspaper. This was in 2007, and I was a Junior Student at the A.M.E. University. My encounters with him went well beyond the classroom. My major was Political Science, and minor Print Journalism. So the Course was News Editing and Writing. I owe much of my practical skills in writing features to his lecture, and tutorials. In February 2008, Mr. Peabody announced his birthday to the class, and as young students, we asked him where were we going to ‘boil’ or ‘kick the dust’, he laughed and told us to read our lessons, and that was the only gift he wanted from us. This tells how much he was interested in making more print journalist for Liberia, before he departs the world; successfully, he died as an accomplished person. He had taught hundreds of persons before we met him. Some of my friends are today active journalists, that is a vocation I love too, but I am now immersed into public policy, governance and development research.
That February of 2008, Mr. Peabody or Bob Stan was 77 years of old - old enough to be a grandfather to any of us - but he was our teacher, so much committed. Our Class was on the second floor, and we all needed to climb long stair cases before reaching that afternoon class. Mr. Peabody was never late, and I can’t remember anytime that he was ever absent as was the case of most of the young lecturers. His style of teaching was through lectures and so many drills. A requirement for that class which ran every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was that each student submits a written news story before sitting in class. By the next class sitting Mr. Peabody would have read each submission, and evaluated them all. As students, some of us some times will default, and we won’t submit, but he didn’t care. Everyday there will be new exercise, either in writing a news headline, a news lead or writing a news story from a long press release. He kept all of those exercises, and surprisingly at the end of the semester, he distributed every paper with no one complaining of a missing exercise paper. All of Peabody’s exercises had made each of his students capable journalists – everyone had something to say that he or she had learned about news writing and editing.
He was so jovial a man, and he left me with a name. He was the only one who ever called me that name to the extent he forgot my real name, and would sometimes while ask me ‘what is your real name again’? One day, as President of the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia, I signed a press statement which was syndicated to the various media institutions. As editorial consultant at the Daily Observer, he ultimately saw the release and even made it published in the paper. So when we met, this was what the jovial old man had to tell me: “So you want to be the Ayatollah of Liberia; do you want to make Liberia an Islamic State’? And we both laughed about it. From that time till his passing, he never stopped calling me Ayatollah. Even in the classroom, he would call me Ayatollah. So on many other occasions, when I go around this old man, I tried listening to him to hear about his struggle as a journalist under repressive and authoritarian regimes in Liberia. One time, I passed by the Daily Observer office, and I asked to see him, just to joke, I was told he has not been coming due to sickness. This time he was eighty years old.
The next time I met him was in July 2010. I had accompanied Dr. Amos C. Sawyer to the launching of Mr. Kenneth Best’s book on Albert Porte. By the time we entered the hall, we met the old jovial Peabody, and this was what he had to say to Dr, Sawyer: ‘What is this Ayatollah doing here?’ Dr. Sawyer asked in return ‘who is Ayatollah?’ He said ‘this young man’, holding my hand, ‘he never writes anything except releases advocating for Muslims in Liberia, I am sure he wants Liberia to be an Islamic State’. We all laughed! Dr. Sawyer introduced me as his assistant. Peabody introduced me too, as his former student, and with compliments. I felt flattered by his compliments.
At that same occasion, I went back to the old man just to sit and listen to him. So I asked him for a copy of the book just to glance, he said he was doing a book review. This is a book of over three-hundred pages and this man at eighty was editing and writing newspaper articles everyday and at the same time doing a book review. His energy and penchant for writing beats my imagination; he never left the profession he loved so dearly. That taught me so many lessons. No wonder why he became a hero of journalism in Liberia.
From that time I did not talk to Peabody again, I only read his writings, and maybe once in a while saw him and just said hello until he finally stop going to the Daily Observer office. At last, while in Transit to Abuja at the Mutarla Muhammed International Airport in Lagos , Dr. Sawyer turned to me and said, ‘Ibrahim do you remember Stanton Peabody… he told me once you were his student’? I said ‘yes’, and in returned he said “well I am sorry, he died yesterday (referring to to Tuesday April 12, 2011), I just got an email on that news”. I became instantly dumbfounded.
So Peabody had died, but he left behind cadres of young and determined writers that he trained. He left behind lessons of courage that every journalist must learn to keep up the profession. Those of us who had not yet become practicing journalists, it is impossible for us to leave the media activities, particularly feature writings, because what we learned under this old man is too worthy enough that to be wasted. His passing is a sad thing for us on earth, but he was called, and It was God that called him, I am sure if he gets the equipments and time, he will practice journalism in heaven, because this was a profession he lived his life for. His passing is like the burning of a historical diary…what a loss to this country?